RUTHERFORD, N.J. – When a jetlagged and slightly nervous Jerry Vasto took to the pitching mound to start the eighth inning at FirstEnergy Stadium in Reading, Pa., on June 16, he was making history for a small Catholic college 120 miles east.
Vasto, a 2015 graduate of Felician University, was pitching for the Hartford (Conn.) Yard Goats, the Class-AA affiliate of the Colorado Rockies, in a road game against the Reading Fightin Phils. The left-hander tossed a perfect inning, becoming the first former Felician baseball player to appear in a Class-AA game. The Golden Falcon program began in 2000.
"It's really an honor," said Vasto, 24, a native of Atlantic Highlands, N.J. "I take a lot of pride in where I've come from, and in being (13th-year Felician head coach) Chris Langan's first drafted player. To hear the names of the players before me who had great careers and weren't drafted is a little surprising. It's a great feeling knowing I'm the first Felician player to make it this far, but I need to keep working hard to make it to where I want to be."
Vasto experienced a whirlwind 48 hours in the process of reporting to the Yard Goats. Two nights earlier, he earned a four-out save for the Class-A Modesto Nuts in a game in Stockton, Calif. Afterward he was informed about his promotion, and after the bus ride back to Modesto, had to pack and be ready for a 9 a.m. flight to the east coast. He reached his hotel room at 1 a.m. on June 16, a Thursday, and made his debut in an afternoon game that day.
"I was definitely a little nervous leading up to my first appearance," Vasto said. "Everyone always talks about the biggest jump for pitchers being from High-A to Double-A. I was around a different group of guys who I usually only saw in spring training, so I wanted to make a good impression on them."
One week later, Vasto had made three appearances for Hartford (through June 23). In three innings, he has allowed one run on four hits, struck out four batters, and walked none. He earned the win in a 4-2 victory over the Richmond Flying Squirrels on Thursday.
"The hitters (in Class-AA) have a lot more experience," Vasto said. "They are older, bigger, and stronger, and they are just waiting for you to make a mistake that they can capitalize on. As a pitcher you really need to lock in on every pitch, and pitch to your strengths rather than to hitters' weaknesses. I've learned a lot in the past week about how to pitch to more advanced hitters."
Of course, with his latest promotion, Vasto now works only two levels away from the major leagues. While that is a fact that lurks behind everything he does, he tries not to let the idea consume him.
"Everyone's goal is to make it to the major leagues; if it isn't your goal, then you won't be playing very long," Vasto said. "I know that if that day comes, it will be a dream come true. But right now, my focus is on what I need to do on a daily basis to keep moving through the system and to prove that one day I will be good enough to be up there."
Felician University, the Franciscan University of New Jersey, is a liberal arts, coeducational Catholic university founded in 1942 and sponsored by the Felician Sisters. True to its mission, Felician University welcomes a diverse student population and embraces its educational needs. With campuses in Lodi and Rutherford, New Jersey, Felician University currently enrolls more than 2,100 students and offers more than 55 undergraduate and graduate programs, in the classroom and online, in the arts and sciences, business and management sciences, health sciences and teacher education. Felician University also sponsors 14 varsity intercollegiate sports that compete at the NCAA Division II level.